In retrospect, I realize that all of these teachers and some of the students were simply products of their environment, but they triggered in me a strong desire to start my own personal civil rights movement to show everyone that I was just as good as they were by doing better than they did in school. As my academic awards and accomplishments continued to pile up, I had to combat feelings of superiority, which proved to be just as difficult as the task of fighting off an inferiority complex. Nevertheless, by the time I was in high school I had come to understand that people are people, and that their external appearance was not a good predictor of what kind of people they were.
In April of 1968, on the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, a major riot broke out at my high school in inner-city Detroit. Most of the black students were so outraged that they were trying to physically harm anyone who was white. Some very serious beatings took place, and I saw many of my white friends being harassed. The student population of the school was about 70 percent black, so the white students did not have much of a chance. At the time, I held a job as the biology laboratory assistant setting up experiments for the other students. The department even trusted me with a key to the science classrooms and the greenhouse. So during the riot, I used that key to open the greenhouse and hide several white students during the melee.
By that time in my life, I understood the extent of racism in America, but I also was beginning to have hope for the future. Having lived and studied among both black and white cultures, I knew that there are good white and black people and there are bad white and black people. It mattered not what color your skin was on the outside, but rather what the condition was of your heart and mind inside. And as I better understood human nature, I felt more emboldened to do things differently than everybody else and to chart my own course for a successful life.
I think that many of the people involved in the founding of our nation also felt they were victims of injustice, but they too had a profound understanding of human nature and set out to design a system different from previous governments that would level the playing field.
Today our nation faces a challenge of a different kind—one that nevertheless requires of us all a movement to stand up for our civil rights. One that asks us to educate ourselves as to the founders' original vision for our nation and to take action to assure we protect and pursue that vision. While many nations lean on their past to give them a sense of accomplishment, the United States has a history of redefining itself and moving forward to ensure that there is indeed liberty and justice for all.
A New World Springs Forth